First of all, tell me about yourself and all the different things that you do.
My name is Jimmy Watts and I live on Galbraith Mountain with my wife, our two teenage boys, and a golden retriever named Wilson. For over twenty years, I’ve been a Seattle Firefighter in downtown Seattle. I’ve been a competitive swimmer and triathlete for over 30 years. The first Ironman Triathlon I did was in 1997, and the last one in 2020 for a total of 6 now. But Bellingham has always been home, and felt like it.
I’ve been an avid flyfisher for a long time, and the progression was from flyfisher to fly tier to rod maker. All the while I’ve been writing as well, and published in numerous journals.
Let’s focus on your split-cane rods for a second. What exactly is a split-cane rod, and what differentiates it from other fly fishing rods?
A split-cane fly rod is a traditional bamboo fly rod, made in the style and fashion that fly rods were made over 100 years ago, before the dawn of synthetic materials like graphite and fiberglass. What differentiates these rods is primarily the craft element behind them; they’re entirely handmade, crafted with simple but exacting hand tools. As such, they’re made to last.
The other thing that differentiates these from other fly fishing rods is that these rods last a lifetime and more– they’re never thrown away. If they break, they are repaired. More often than not, these rods are passed down through generations.
Could you briefly walk me through the process of crafting a rod? How long does this process take?
The process for one rod takes between 60-80 hours. They’re made with simple, exacting hand tools. Once the rod blank (essentially the 7-to-9-feet-long fly rod) is completed, cork rings are glued on and turned on a lathe in the desired shape for the grip, and the guide “eyes” made of nickel and agate, are wrapped onto the rod with gossamer-thin silk thread. A reel seat to hold the fly-reel is placed just below the grip and is made of a beautiful, ornate wood.
Where do you source your materials from?
The specific species of bamboo used for fly rods is sourced from the Tonkin region of China. This has been the case since the late 1800s, when this species was identified and discovered for the use of fly rods. No other species of bamboo has been yet developed or discovered. And this species is unable to grow anywhere else…they’ve tried!
In addition to being a woodworker and fireman, you are a triathlete, a photographer, a writer, and a father. It’s quite the resume! How do all of these diverse elements of your life function together?
All these elements braid together like a thread, or channels of the same stream. It’s fair to say the various elements of my upbringing and early years fed my life like tributaries, but if you had asked me 20 years ago what my days and weeks would look like now, I never would have imagined this.
I want an artistic representation of my love for rivers, and I want to put it in the service of those rivers. This is evident most locally through my involvement with, and love for, the Liam Wood School of Flyfishers and River Guardians at Western Washington University. It came about as a result of the 1999 Olympic Pipeline Explosion on Whatcom Creek and the death of 18 year old Liam Wood who was fly fishing just above the Woburn Street bridge when it exploded.
It’s also fair to say I’m inspired to make the most of our life, and have been since adolescence. I don’t want the superfluous. I don’t want the superficial. What I want is for my life to be an honest expression of who I am and a truthful representation of what I see in the mirror. Bellingham, shuksanrods.com